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Apr 19, 2011 5:33 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Shinnecocks May Start Casino Plans In Nassau County

Apr 19, 2011 5:33 PM

The Shinnecock Indian Nation could have a deal with Nassau County lawmakers by the end of the year for the development of a casino and hotel that would anchor a broad redevelopment of the property surrounding the Nassau Coliseum sports arena—a crucial first step for the tribe in the long march toward the opening of a Shinnecock gaming facility.

Nassau County officials and tribal leaders confirmed this week that they are in talks about development plans on a portion of the county-owned Coliseum parcel, which has been the subject of ambitious redevelopment talks for years.

Shinnecock Tribal Trustees Chairman Randy King said no deal has been inked, but the Tribal Trustees have been working with Nassau County lawmakers for more than a year on potential plans for either the Coliseum property or the Belmont Raceway site, or both.

“We have been in discussions with them for a long time, but we have not signed a contract or a memo of understanding or any of that other stuff you read out there,” Mr. King said on Monday. “We’re looking at all of it up there and what the market looks like, just like any sophisticated business entity would.”

Mr. King would not discuss details of what the tribe has proposed at either of the Nassau sites, but Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano outlined the tribe’s proposal in his annual state of the county address earlier this year.

He said the county is considering a public-private partnership with the Shinnecocks for a development that would pair a major refurbishment of the Coliseum with a casino, hotel, conference center, and restaurants and retail stores on the surrounding acres. Refurbishing the Coliseum is expected to cost as much as $400 million.

Mr. Mangano clearly placed the tribe’s proposal ahead of a sprawling residential, entertainment and commercial development plan by Computer Associates chief and New York Islanders owner Charles Wang, known as The Lighthouse, which he said had not been proven to be economically viable.

In 2001, a gaming analysis firm hired by the Shinnecocks produced a viability study that showed a casino on Long Island could be expected to produce revenues topping $1 billion within 10 years of opening. The potential that such a financial juggernaut could include the Coliseum project was not lost on Mr. Mangano. “A project of this magnitude would create thousands of jobs, generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue annually, and would increase tourism in Nassau County,” he said of the Shinnecocks proposal.

On Monday, an aide to Mr. Mangano, Brian Nevin, said that the Nassau County executive has promised to finalize his proposal for the property development by the end of the year.

Getting an agreement for a project finalized somewhere—anywhere—is a critical first step for the tribe, which has said it has plans to develop as many as three gaming facilities on Long Island or in the New York metro area, because it would allow them to begin what are sure to be long and difficult negotiations with New York State and the federal government. In order to open a full-fledged casino, with high-stakes table games and slot machines, the Shinnecocks will need to reach a number of agreements with Governor Andrew Cuomo on tax revenue sharing and win the approval of state legislators.

Perhaps even more daunting will be getting around a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibited Native American tribes who weren’t recognized by the federal government until after 1934 from putting new lands into government trust. In a federal lawsuit, the tribe has claimed that they were recognized by the federal government prior to 1934 and were inadvertently left off disorganized registration rolls beginning sometime in the late 1930s or 1940s. The tribe also has been lobbying Congress and the White House for changes to laws that would allow them and other tribes to acquire land and use it for economic development, including casinos, under the sovereign freedom from local zoning regulations that Native American reservations enjoy.

The tribe has said it does not want to use the 800-acre Shinnecock Neck reservation in Southampton for a casino development.

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